[News] Accused Torturer Gets Key Police Job in Jerusalem

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 9 12:13:48 EDT 2010

August 9, 2010

Accused Torturer Gets Key Police Job in Jerusalem

"Major George" and Israel's Abu Ghraib


A police officer known as "Major George" who is accused of torturing 
Arab prisoners in his previous role as chief interrogator in a secret 
military jail has been appointed to oversee relations with 
Jerusalem's Palestinian population, it has emerged.

The decision has been greeted with stunned disbelief from human 
rights groups, who say unresolved allegations against Major George 
that he brutally abused Arab prisoners for many years should 
disqualify him from such a sensitive post.

Relations between the Israeli police and the 250,000 Palestinian 
residents of East Jerusalem have been on a knife edge for many 
months, as extremist Jewish groups -- backed by the municipality -- 
have increased their settlement drive in traditional Palestinian 
neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (Acri), Israel's largest 
legal rights group, revealed last week that it had made a formal 
complaint in February about Major George, whose real name is Doron Zahavi.

Acri said he had threatened to demolish the home of a Palestinian 
community activist in Silwan for leading protests against a settler 
takeover of Palestinian homes in the area. During what police 
described as a "getting to know each other session", pressure was 
also put on Jawad Siyam to become an informant.

Zahavi, however, first earned notoriety in Unit 504, a special wing 
of military intelligence, that oversaw the interrogation of foreign 
Arab nationals held in the secret prison, known as Facility 1391. 
Israel claims to have closed the jail following its exposure in 2003.

A Lebanese militia leader, Mustafa Dirani, who was held in Facility 
1391 for many years, alleged in an Israeli court in 2004 that Zahavi 
repeatedly tortured him, including by sodomizing him with a baton.

The civil suit for $1.5 million damages was never settled because 
Israel released Dirani in a prisoner swap before the court had issued 
a ruling. The judge has denied Zahavi's subsequent requests to close the case.

Although Zahavi has denied the main charges, he has admitted 
interrogating prisoners while they were naked and that he ordered one 
of his officers to undress in Dirani's cell and threaten to sexually 
assault him.

Several of Unit 504's interrogators later corroborated Dirani's 
claims, revealing that they routinely used the torture techniques he 
had described.

The case has attracted comparisons with Abu Ghraib, the prison in 
Iraq where US soldiers sexually abused Iraqi inmates.

Dalia Kerstein, director of Hamoked, an Israeli human rights group 
that helped to expose Facility 1391, called Zahavi's appointment "appalling".

She said the security services had a history of appointing officials 
who acted violently towards Palestinians to sensitive posts. The 
authorities' logic, she said, appeared to be that "these people know 
how to deal with the Arabs because they can speak the language of violence".

Zahavi's new role as adviser on Arab affairs to Jerusalem's police 
chief, Aharon Franco, is one of the key roles in the Jersualem force. 
Zahavi is supposed to act as the main channel between Palestinian 
residents and the police.

According to the job description, the adviser "must be an accepted 
and welcome figure in the Arab community, with excellent interpersonal skills."

Melanie Takefman, a spokeswoman for Acri, said it was hard to see how 
Zahavi could fill such a post. "The problem in Jerusalem is that the 
police relate almost exclusively to the Palestinians as suspects and 
do not enforce the law equitably."

Zahavi's job in Facillity 1391 was to extract information from 
important Arab prisoners.

Dirani -- a senior figure in Amal, a now-defunct Lebanese militia, 
who was seized by Israeli commandos in 1994 -- was assumed to know 
the location of a missing airman, Ron Arad, whose plane went down 
over Lebanon eight years earlier.

Dirani claimed he was left naked for his first month in detention and 
was sexually abused repeatedly by his interrogators.

When Dirani appeared in court in 2004, he entered walking with great 
difficulty and aided by a cane. He told the judge of his experience 
of torture: "I prayed that I'd die."

An unnamed interrogator who worked under Zahavi told the Israeli 
media: "I remember one instance that I still feel until today, which 
makes me shudder, in which a baton was used -- not for hitting. Even 
in the field, George did what he wanted, in front of my eyes and the 
eyes of everyone else."

After Zahavi was dismissed from military intelligence, he joined the 
immigration police and later moved into police intelligence. He is 
reported to have taken up his new post in the past two months.

The recent meeting with Siyam suggests that he is likely to bring an 
uncompromising approach to his role as a liaison with Jerusalem's Palestinians.

Siyam said Zahavi spent most of their meeting shouting at him, and 
warning that a demolition order would be drawn up for Siyam's house 
if he continued his political activities. Zahavi also threatened to 
get him fired from his job.

Although Israel claims to have closed Facility 1391, there are 
suspicions it and possibly other secret prisons are still in 
operation. In May last year the United Nations Committee Against 
Torture called for the location of 1391 to be identified and the 
prison inspected.

No bar to promotion

Zahavi is only the latest example of a security official accused of 
violent crimes against Palestinians later being placed in a sensitive post.

Gavriel Dahan: A lieutenant in the border police, Dahan was found 
guilty of carrying out a "manifestly illegal" order to shoot dead 
Israeli-Palestinian citizens arriving at an improvised checkpoint in 
1956. In total, 47 civilians were killed at Kafr Qassem. Dahan was 
later appointed adviser on Arab affairs in the mixed city of Ramle.

Ehud Yatom: In the infamous Bus 300 affair in 1984, Yatom admitted 
using a rock to smash the skulls of two bound Palestinian teenagers 
who had hijacked a bus full of Israelis. Yatom was later pardoned. In 
2001 prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed him his counter-terrorism 
adviser, though the supreme court ruled him unfit for the post. He 
was elected to the parliament in 2003.

Benzi Sau: A state commission of inquiry harshly criticized Sau, 
northern commander of the border police, for his role in the fatal 
shootings of 13 unarmed Palestinian citizens in 2000. The panel 
recommended he be denied promotion for four years. In that time he 
was promoted twice, eventually becoming head of the national border police.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the 
Middle East" (Pluto Press) and 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His 
website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

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